Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Structure of Adon Olam

I was recently encouraged to look closely at the piyut of Adon Olam. Despite having said it since kindergarten, I never realized until now that I had no idea what it was about as a complete entity (beyond the first line).

The first three lines form a set expressing HaShem's malchus in the past, present, and future - His activity (malach) prior to Creation, His status (melech) at the time of Creation, and the acknowledgement of His continued activity (yimloch) following the destruction of all Creation.

The fourth line appears to parallel the chronology of the first three, focusing on HaShem's eternal existence rather than His eternal kingship. At first glance, this seems to be logically inverted, as kingship is usually built upon the premise of existence. However, several midrashim (e.g., heavenly bodies, burning castle) imply that Avraham's knowledge of HaShem's malchus was, indeed, the prerequisite to his recognition of His metzius, mostly likely due to an inability to directly and unambiguously experience HaShem (save through prophecy, which only came later).

The fifth line expresses Yichud HaShem - an infinity orthogonal to that of the previous stich.

The sixth line seems to be similar to the fourth line in its chronological dimensionality, although utilizing the terminology of reishis and tachlis, which may be acknowledgements of HaShem's elevation over causation - that nothing causes Him and that He is independent of His effects (I'm not sure if my understanding of tachlis is correct).

Hence, once HaShem's complete malchus is established in lines 1-3, one can build upon this foundation the logical conclusions that He exists, that He is unique (as two kings cannot share a crown), and that He is completely independent (being that He is stronger than any other force).

At this point, the piyut changes its focus from a transcendental God to a personal One.

Lines 7 and 8 express that HaShem is Keili, Go'ali, Tzur chevli, Nisi, M'nusi, and M'nas kosi, which are all general concepts describing HaShem's interactions with us that are predicated on the postulates of lines 5 and 6.

Finally, lines 9 and 10 express a final thought, that every night I place my spirit in the stewardship of HaShem, with the fearless expectation that I shall again awaken, a confidence that follows from the postulates of lines 7 and 8.

It is interesting that we say this piyut upon waking up in the morning (in addition to sundry other points of the day), when we are as distant as possible from our future need to rely on HaShem in this manner, but perhaps it is precisely then that we need to remind ourselves of such as a means of influencing our actions over the course of the day.



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